Protests against systemic racism and police brutality continue as thousands gathered at Place Emilie Gamelin last Sunday.

Protestors spent their sunny afternoon marching peacefully in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, reignited by the death of African American man George Floyd, who died in police custody for a harmless infraction on May 25 after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes as he pleaded for his life.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

Floyd’s death sparked international outrage, with protests against police brutality and systemic racism uniting folks from across the world to take part in actions towards police reform.

Montreal’s second major Black Lives Matter protest since Floyd’s death, the event initially sparked local backlash after organizers, Nous sommes la ligue des noirs nouvelle génération, invited the Montreal Police (SPVM) Chief to join the protest. The decision was contested by locals, and a day later the invitation was withdrawn. In an open Facebook message, the organization wrote that “citizens are terrified of the idea that [the police chiefs] will be there.”

Still, the invitation did not stop police from teargassing the crowd around 7pm.

At 11am, after a two-hour solidarity event reserved for the Black community, the thousands of protesters, most following organizers’ directions to stay masked, began to move downtown.

Organizers offered free masks and gloves to protestors to maintain safety. For many, it was the first major outing since the COVID-19 pandemic halted large scale collective gathering at the end of March, though with a crowd so large it was difficult to follow the two meter social distance requirements.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

Most protests held signs, with different messages; some more humorous, shedding light on the unity and togetherness of the situation while others alluded to the seriousness of the crimes. A simple sign, “8:46”, paid homage to Floyd’s death; it represents the amount of time Floyd suffocated under the officer’s knee.

Most protestors dispersed around 2pm, where the march ended at Dorchester Square, though many continued into the day to march around the downtown area, eventually coming face to face with a wall of police in full riot gear, shields, face masks, and rubber bullet guns.

Stanley Courages, a protestor at the event, said he joined in support of the Black Lives Matter movements. To him, it’s a symbol that things are going bad, “and going bad for a lot of people,” he said.

“The system is sick, but we all know that. Nobody has the nerve to say it out loud,” he continued. “This is nice to see, Black, White, Latin, a little bit of Asian… it’s nice to see all kinds of people. […] Somehow, some way, people can relate to it, the sadness, whatever the problem they have with this kind of system. So I’m here for that symbol.”

The spotlight is on what he calls the Black movement because Black folks have been put at the bottom since colonization, he said. But Black folks aren’t the only ones suffering, he explained.

“The black movement – the same thing as the Black Lives Matter – that’s what I see as a symbol that everyone is not okay with this system,” he said.
Pascale Lavache, another protestor at the event and who is Black, said she is marching for her nine year old son.

“I want him to not have to march when he’s my age, when he’s grown,” she said.

“I’m happy to see there’s lot of the youth is present,” she continued. “it’s not just black people, it’s everybody. Everybody feels the injustice. Everybody feels the injustice, and I feel like this is a great movement and I’m happy to see everybody is standing up for this injustice that touches everybody. So I’m really marching for myself.”

To her, the Black Lives Matter movement is about standing up for what is right, and standing up for equal rights for everybody. “I think people need to understand that this is not just for [Black folks], it’s for everyone. And it needs to stop, this needs to stop. It’s a disservice for everybody when there’s no justice.”

Though most protestors broke up around 2pm, protests continued around the downtown area until around 7pm. It was then that police opened fire on the remaining protectors without warning.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

The use of tear gas, a chemical weapon that is banned in war, has been criticized by healthcare experts. It irritates the tear ducts, causing coughing, and potential irritation of the upper respiratory tract; all symptoms that could further spread the COVID-19 virus, experts say.

Already a violent weapon, its use at peaceful protests in the Canadian epicentre of the pandemic is problematic at the very least. Local healthcare professionals have called for police to cease its’ use – to no avail.

Though the protests have shed light on the systemic racism present in the Canadian justice system, Premier Francois Legault said publicly that systemic racism doesn’t exist in Quebec. The thousands of protestors that hit the streets last Sunday would disagree.

From racial profiling, economic insecurity, and a lack of representation in all facets, Quebec’s longstanding whitewashing of its’ history and culture and xenophobia; including the contested Bill 62 which bands all religious symbols in public, prove a different, darker reality.

One way to ease the injustice, Lavache said, is for there to be equal representation at every level – in both media, politics, and police force.

“We need to have equal representation, whether it’s for women, LGBTQ,” she said. “Everyone needs to be represented. The more there’s equal representation, the more there will be justice.”

2020 came in without much fanfare for me. This despite a friend and I planning all the things we would do to bring in the New Year.

The days and weeks leading up to it we had planned to do everything from going to fancy bars, fancy dinners, clubs, you name it. However on New Year’s Eve, we were so tired we almost did not end up going anywhere at all.

We finally went to Chinatown and bumped into some co-workers, we ate briefly and decided we would walk to the Old Port to see the fireworks but we were too tired to make it up the hill so we decided to hop the metro to get a coffee at Tim Hortons instead. However, when we arrived, we realized we had missed the countdown by three minutes and the New Year had already rung in.

Like many people, I made resolutions and goals for the upcoming year. This was my year to shine! I had planned to go everywhere from Spain to England, Paris and Italy. I was going to get my scripts published and see the world.

Then it happened. The Coronavirus at first started off small. We heard about it, but as far as we knew, it was just a very heavy strain of the flu.

Despite the grumblings about this virus, I was still ready and willing to go on my voyage. I was lucky that I was able to take a trip earlier in the year to Boston without not too much fuss so I thought this would just be another forgotten virus that we would soon forget like SARS and the Bird Flu.

Then overnight it happened. Travel bans were in place. “Damn,” I thought there goes my trips.

Not long after that social distancing was introduced and stores were closed and so started our hell with this Coronavirus. Overnight our lives were crippled, many people lost their jobs, we couldn’t enjoy the basics like going to the movies or seeing our friends and families.

Even worse, people were dying and in large numbers. People were losing family members and couldn’t even bury their dead. It seemed night after night there was more devastation and the numbers kept climbing.

Would there be an end to this madness? Then there would be one tragedy after the next a mass shooting in Nova Scotia, the Royal Canadian Air Force crash and the snowbirds falling from the sky.

At this point, we all but wrote off this horrible year. Most people I knew could not be happy enough for 2020 to end and it was not even six months in yet.

Then, on May 25th Mr. George Floyd probably got up in the morning and went about his daily routine. I do not imagine that he ever imagined that it would be his last day on earth. I do not think that he could imagine the impact of his last 8:46 seconds would have on the world.

It’s no secret that racism against black people has always plagued America and countries throughout the world. Over the years there have been countless killings of unarmed black men, women and children by the police and by white supremacist and each time, there has been upset among people and sometimes mass protest becasuse of what has happened.

This time it’s different. Never before has the world erupted in unanimous protest over racism.

All across the world from England to Japan, Germany, Italy, Canada and of course the USA, many have taken a stand on racism. Not only have world leaders and celebrities taken a stand, but people who have never spoken out now have.

No Mas! Black Lives Matter! No Justice No Peace has been the sentiment that has been echoed across the world. Could it be that finally people the world over have seen and finally understand what has gone on for hundreds of years to Black Americans?

So, 2020 started horribly and has been a year full of hardship, sorrow and pains. The death of George Floyd broke our hearts, but could this horrible year, 2020, the year that no one will forget, be the year that one man’s last 8:46 managed to change the world?

Maybe 2020 will not be only remembered for the horrible Coronavirus that crippled the world but it will be also remembered for the 8:46 that changed it too!

Rest in peace Mr. Floyd because your death was not in vain.

Last Sunday, approximately 10 000 people took to the streets of Montreal demanding justice for George Floyd and all the other victims of racist police violence. This Sunday there’s another local protest against police brutality.

Before we go any further, I’d like to address what I knew every newscast would lead with the following day right after it happened: Yes, there was some looting. A bit of looting and some broken windows, nothing that should detract from the valid and necessary reason so many people were out, social distancing as much as possible during a pandemic.

Lenny Lanteigne, owner of Steve’s Music Store, the main target of the looters last Sunday, gets it. He told CTV that he thinks the protest was necessary and while he’s obviously not thrilled people stole his inventory, he knows what’s important. “They’re guitars, not human lives.”

In the US currently, there’s a strong argument that some of the rioting is actually quite necessary to be heard and affect change. In just over a week, the story changed from “the cops are fired” to “we’ve arrested one cop and charged him with third-degree murder” to (just yesterday) “we’re charging him with second-degree murder and the three cops who stood by with aiding and abetting second degree murder”.

The looting last Sunday in Montreal, though, came across more like a mini hockey riot with mostly white dudes using the opportunity to steal stuff than something tied into the message of police racism. The SPVM officers kneeling to put on their riot gear before teargassing the crowd (which preceded the looting), though, was a small reminder that the police here aren’t really all that different than those in the states.

We’ve Got A Long List Too

The protest last Sunday may have been in solidarity with demonstrations across the US and now across the world, but it was also demanding justice for victims of racist police violence in Canada and Montreal too. For every George Floyd or Eric Garner, there’s a Regis Korchinski-Paquet or Fredy Villanueva.

We also have a serious problem with Canadian police indiscriminately brutalizing Indigenous people. From the so-called “starlight tours” out west to a recent local incident next to Cabot Square where a Native woman in distress had to deal with 17 cops and the SPVM (Montreal Police) canine unit before getting an ambulance, it seems like our police don’t think that Native Lives Matter.

Or Black Lives, apparently.

In a CBC study of fatal encounters with police of all levels across Canada over 17 years, Black and Indigenous people were seriously over-represented when compared to the overall population. Meanwhile a 2019 report commissioned by the City of Montreal revealed that the SPVM was four to five times more likely to stop Black or Indigenous people than whites.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did admit that Canada has a problem with police racism, after 21 seconds of awkward, probably staged, silence, while dodging a question about US President Donald Trump. Of course, anything that came after the 21 seconds, he knew, would get lost in the shuffle.

Quebec Premier François Legault, while supporting the protest, denied that systemic racism exists in Quebec. This from the man that, pre-pandemic, was all about systemically discriminating against minorities through Bill 21.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, to her credit, admitted that systemic discrimination does exist in our city. The question now becomes what she is going to do to fight it.

After initially opposing outfitting police with body cameras, she now says it will happen as soon as possible. This is largely due to pressure from boroughs like Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce and the public.

The Spotlight and the Shadows

Body cameras on police would be a welcome improvement, because unlike their counterparts south of the border, our police are camera-shy when it comes to race-based brutality. This helps our political leaders propagate the lie that violent and murderous police racism is a shameful American problem, but there are only a few bad apples here.

In the US, violent racist cops are brazen and kill in the daylight, either not caring who is watching or filming or hoping to be the next white supremacist champion or MAGA hero. George Zimmerman has fans and he wasn’t even trained.

Here, they’re just as brutal, but know to avoid the spotlight as much as possible. For the person on the receiving end, though, the result is the same.

With the only real-world empire most of us have ever known burning before our eyes and crumbling into a failed state, the kind the US would usually think of invading, it’s easy to get distracted. When we see peaceful protesters teargassed and assaulted by gleeful cops, it’s easy to forget that we have problems here too,

Solidarity with those fighting to get out from under Trump’s boot is essential, but remember that the underlying problem of racist police violence is a Canadian one, too.

The next Montreal Anti-Police Brutality Protests starts Sunday, June 14th at 11am at Place Emilie-Gamelin

Photos by IK (see the album)